Highly Recommended***** We are all familiar with the term “storefront theater”. This term describes a small, black box venue that under normal circumstances is located in what was meant to be, or for that matter, once upon a time was, a retail store on a street containing many such stores. While there are many of these in the city of Chicago, and a few in suburban areas, there is one unique one which in reality is not a “store front”, but instead, a “store rear”, located in the back of a book store ( you remember those don’t you?) on Vernon Avenue in the quaint village of Glencoe on the North Shore. Books on Vernon is the home of the smaller productions that are produced by Writers Theatre in Glencoe and while it is small in size ( the current production seats about 50 patrons), they make up for in talent that is put on the stage.
The current production is August Strindberg’s “The Dance of Death” as adapted by Conor McPherson and smoothly directed by Henry Wishcamper. This is a two act play with three characters that takes place in or about 1900 in an island in Sweden. The tale is about a husband and wife of almost twenty five years engaged in marriage, that one might say, was made in Hell! The old captain, Edgar ( portrayed by Larry Yando- need I say more! Just the mention of his name connected with any play, should be enough for you to change your plans and make this one a “must see”). His manipulative wife, Alice ( an amazingly stunning performance by Shannon Cochran) , it appears dreads her years with this man and he in turn , it appears hates her as well. They have children, who we hear of, but never see and all of the others in his “company” do what they must for him, but have no ties to this ornery military man.
From the very onset, we see this couple go at each other and show the hatred they have sustained over the years. There is a party going on, just on the other side of the Island ( they were not invited) and it seems the hired help is leaving their employ as they have not paid her. Enter Alice’s cousin Kurt ( deftly handled by Philip Earl Johnson) who has just been assigned a position on this Island and who at one time was the “matchmaker” for these two. As we learn during almost two and a half glorious hours, that move swiftly and with reason) is that Edgar at one time was a lover to Kurt’s wife, who divorced him and got full custody of their children and that Kurt, a mild-mannered, good man, has always been smitten by his cousin Alice. During all the “cat and Mouse” banter that goes on, we find ourselves not knowing who is telling truths and who is fabricating stores, And yet, we want to think that Alice has at last found someone who will tend to her needs, but will she? Does all that appears to be taking place, really take place or are we just along for the ride. Not wanting to ruin any of the mystery and playfulness of McPherson’s script, I will tell you that there are times you will be glued to your seat and you will be rooting for one of them over the other, and then as quick as a snap of the fingers, you will reverse your feelings. This is magical and the three actors, working in a very small ( and very intimate) space are as close as if they were in your living room.
The set, an amazing use of what had to have been a stockroom back in the day, by Kevin Depinet just shows how a creative mind can take a small space and make it practical. The lighting (Kieth Parham), costumes (Rachel Laritz) and sound (Josh Schmidt) truly help to make this a visual and audio experience, but in this particular production, the props ( for those of you who are unaware of what “props” are, they are all the little things that are on the set and are always in just the right spot) by Julie Eberhardt and the “Fight Director” ( David Woolley,SAFD) are two of the more important elements of making this production what it is- a MUST SEE for anyone who enjoys a special night at the theater. This one truly is!
For those of you who know Yando from “The Lion King”, or his recent years as “Scrooge” at The Goodman, or any of the hundreds of productions in and around town, you will get to see yet another side of his talent ( he even dances a wonderful side splitting jog). For those of you who have watched Cochran on Writers stages and others, or Mr. Johnson in his various theater roles in Chicago, you are in for a treat. A play filled with drams, comedy ( at least comedic moments) and a story that will wow you from start to finish. We all know couples who are not meant for each other, yet they stay together. Are they wrong? Does the life they lead prepare them for another life, one they will relish after this one? Or are we just fated to be with another and learn to live with each other rather than have to retrain another person to our likes and dislikes? See for yourself! And walk out of the theater knowing that as bad as you may think your wedded bliss is, it ain’t so bad- is it?.
“The Dance of Death” will continue at Writers Theatre Books on Vernon , located at 664 Vernon Avenue through July 20th ( due to audience sizes, they do run a long times, but since the seating is limited, I suggest you not put off placing your order) with performances as follows:
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m.
There are also some 2 p.m. Wednesdays check with the box office
Tickets range in prices from $35-$70 and can be purchased at the Writers box office, around the corner at 321 Park Avenue, by calling 847-242-6000 or online at www.writerstheatre.org
Plenty of free parking, a few eating establishments in the area and of course, the Metra, Glencoe train station is walking distance.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Dance of Death”